Tax opponent launches campaign
Tax opponent launches campaign
An opponent of a proposed half-cent sales tax increase launched his campaign against the tax Tuesday.
Alameda activist and blogger David Howard said the proposed Measure C sales tax increase that’s due to appear on the June 5 ballot was pushed through without adequate public input.
Howard, who said he is part of a group that opposes the tax but wouldn’t say how many members the group has, questioned the lack of specificity in the ballot language and what he sees as a lack of oversight over how the money will be spent. He also questioned whether the money should pay some of the expenses City Manager John Russo said would be covered by the measure, including a proposed training facility and a swim center, which he said would be partially funded by the tax.
Howard called on council members to pull the tax off the ballot and to engage the public in a discussion over what should be included in a future tax proposal.
“Let's truly involve the public to see what we can afford, what we want, and what the county can help provide, and put real accountability measures in the ballot proposal, not lip service,” Howard said.
Howard said the estimated $54 million to be raised by the tax would pay for “a hodge-podge of goodies, most of which go to Alameda firefighters,” though he couldn’t provide figures to back the latter assertion when asked. He said the city was unable to provide a specific list of expenditures or a detailed timeline for a proposed construction bond and suggested a reporter ask city officials for the figures.
Fire officials have asked for nearly $8 million for equipment and vehicles over 10 years, a list obtained by a reporter shows, and city officials said the estimated cost for a new Fire Station 3 is $4.5 million. Draft documents obtained by Howard showed an estimated $8.75 million cost for the training center, though Russo and Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi have said the tax wouldn’t fully fund that.
Howard offered a reporter a copy of a public records request he sent to city staffers requesting “studies, estimates, vendor quotes, cost schedules and any similar or like records pertaining to each of these items (to be paid for by the proposed tax) that would indicate the cost of each” and the reply.
“Much of what you have requested is in the initial stages of research and therefore in draft form. There is currently no detailed schedule for the bond issue,” city staffer Susan Haley responded. “Additional information may be forthcoming.”
The reply included draft lists of equipment and facilities needs for the police and fire departments, the first page of Russo’s staff report on the March 7 tax vote and city policies on fleet replacement and use and maintenance of vehicles and equipment.
“If it was all in draft form, not figured out yet, before asking council to vote on it, why ask to vote on it?” Howard said. “Take the time to put a package together and bring a fully costed plan, documented plan, to voters in November.”
Howard said he thinks the city can save money by sending firefighters to Alameda County for training instead of building a center here. And he questioned whether the tax should pay for a new swim center, though he also said the ballot language for the tax doesn’t guarantee when or if a swim center might be built.
“Why ask for money to build a new swimming pool instead of fixing Emma Hood?” Howard said.
He also accused Mayor Marie Gilmore, Vice Mayor Rob Bonta and City Councilwoman Lena Tam of having “jammed through” the tax measure, though the council’s vote to put the measure on the ballot was unanimous and Bonta and Tam expressed reservations about the proposal when Russo offered it on February 23, a day Gilmore wasn’t in the chamber.
“Do you think I'm so stupid not to believe that these events aren't orchestrated?” Howard said when a reporter questioned his representation of the proposal’s origin and the council vote. “Really? You insult me.”
Russo has said the tax would help address one of several budget issues facing the city, and he said he proposed this tax for equipment and facility needs for the June ballot instead of requesting a more general tax for November because a November tax proposal would fare poorly on a ballot he said would be crowded with other tax proposals. But some residents questioned whether higher taxes would drive shoppers to the Internet and whether the taxes would adversely impact low-income residents.
If the tax passes, Russo said the city would take out a $15.5 million bond to cover the construction costs for items that include a new Fire Station 3 and emergency operations center, renovations to the Carnegie Library, and funds for a new swim center and lighted, all-weather field. The field and a second elevator for the main library were added to the list of items to be paid for by the tax the night the council voted to put it on the ballot.
Some $900,000 to $1 million a year would be paid out over the 30 years of the tax to cover those capital costs, which include $3.5 million for Carnegie renovations, $5 million toward a swim center and $1 million toward a field, records and information offered to the council and a reporter by Russo show.
The rest of the money would be used to pay for equipment and vehicles city-wide, though much of that money would be paid to cover public safety needs since those departments have the greatest vehicle and equipment needs, city officials said.